No one wants to live—or die—on dried peas. Even the apprentices went out to try and hunt today. I stayed behind with old Charlie the potter, Mother Alys, and Charity. Charlie’s got a bad cough, and I’m going to see if I can brew up something to help him. Then I’ll see if Charity wants another lesson.
“So why are you teaching me to read?” Charity asked. “If it’s not out of pity, and you don’t want to bed me, why?”
I stared at our scribbles that covered the wooden table. ‘Something to do?” I said. “And you were interested. I guess I just wanted someone to talk to.”
“You seem a kindly fellow, Edward,” she said, looking across the room to where Charlie, having drunk the potion I’d made, was napping. “Always wanting to help people. The world’s gonna hurt you, you know.”
Before I could answer, the inn doors opened and Lucas and James came in, quarrelling with one another, followed by the cobbler.
“I am not takin’ your boys hunting with me again,” Cobbler declared, throwing his cloak over a bench near the fire. “They won’t hold still, won’t keep quiet, scared off everything for a mile, I’ll wager.”
“Where’s Alf?” I asked the boys.
“He went off with Potter,” Lucas said. “Said they had a spot up the road they thought deer might cross at, and that they didn’t want us with them, so we should go with Cobbler.”
“And now I see why!” Cobbler said, warming his hands at the fire. “I hope he’s had better luck than we did!”
“Where’s Forest?” Charity asked. “He wasn’t with them?”
“No, Peddler always hunts alone,” Cobbler said. “Can’t see why, him bein’ blind in that one eye and all, but suit himself, I guess. Any of those blasted peas left? I’m starved.”
The seven of us there in the inn sat huddled around the fire, eating pea soup and waiting for the other three to return.
“What’s that?” James asked. “I hear something outside . . . .”
“The wind,” Cobbler said. “You’d know the sound better if you’d learn to keep quiet . . . .”
“No, wait,” I said, “I thought I heard a voice.”
We all fell silent, listening to the wind rushing around the corners of the building, trying to push its way in.
“I hear wolves,” Lucas whispered.
“Forest and the others are still out there!” Charity said.
Mother Alys began muttering over her prayer beads. I stood up. “Boys,” I said, “I’m going to make some lights and go out to meet Alf, Potter, and Peddler. I need you to come with me. And you, too, Cobbler, if you will.”
“But the wolves . . . .” the apprentices protested.
“Won’t attack a group of men, so long as we stay together and don’t panic.” I gave a very dirty side-eye to Cobbler, who had run and left Peter behind two days before. “They probably won’t bother Alf and Potter, for that matter, if they stay together. It’s Peddler who’s in danger.”
Old Charlie began unfolding himself from his seat. “No, stay here and, um, protect the women,” I said, not wanting to hurt the white-haired potter’s feelings. “The boys and I can handle this.”
“You won’t go out to hunt deer, Beer Wizard, but you’ll go out after wolves?” Cobbler scoffed.
“I may be no good at shooting arrows, but I can bellow and fling a torch with the best of ’em.” I said. “Come on,” I added, going to fetch my cloak.